It had all the ingredients of a classic motor racing duel: excitement, suspense, adrenaline and even a last-lap, final corner crash which took out the two drivers vying for first place.
If you caught a glimpse of it on television some time over the weekend with the sound turned down, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was any other gasoline-fuelled race series like Formula 1, Formula Ford or Formula 3.
But Saturday’s inaugural Formula E race, held on the city streets in and around the iconic Birds’ Nest Stadium in Beijing, China, differed in one very important way from other FIA-sanctioned race series. All the cars were completely electric.
We’ve been covering Formula E here on Transport Evolved since it was first announced, but even we didn’t expect the drama and excitement that the inaugural race treated us to on Saturday.
Starting early on Saturday morning with the qualifying session, the field of twenty drivers — including the late Ayrton Senna’s nephew Bruno Senna and Nicolas Prost, son of F1 champion Alain Prost — treated the crowd in Beijing to an exciting and close-run qualifying session. While Senna put in the fastest lap time of the free practice sessions, a car fault meant he was unable to take part in qualifying, leaving him at the back of the grid and opening up a space for Nico Prost to claim pole.
When the race proper began, Senna’s luck went from bad to worse as he collided with Takuma Sato on the first lap causing a yellow flag to be brought out until the debris had been cleared from the track. After the race proper got back underway, the remaining drivers expertly put to bed any fears from racing enthusiasts that the tight city course and electrically-driven race cars would result in a dull, boring race with no overtaking.
Mid-race as planned, all teams successfully executed the controversial car swap maneuverers, with drivers getting out of the car they had driven for the first part of the race and into a freshly-charged but identical car for the remainder of the race. As with pitstops for tires and fuel in conventional race series, the car swaps were carried out in a strategic way, with teams calling drivers in at the best possible point in the race to ensure they wouldn’t lose their place in the field.
In total, the race lasted for twenty-five laps, with Frenchman Nicolas Prost holding his own to the penultimate corner for what looked like a sure-win. But when rival Nick Heidfeld overtook to stake his claim on the racing line for the final corner, Prost cut across Heidfeld’s path to stop the manoeuvre, making contact with the German race car driver and sending both Heidfeld and his car barrelling into the air. With no steering left, all Prost could do was watch in his mirror as third-place Lucas di Grassi made his way past the wreckage and onto the winners’ podium.
Luckily, no-one was hurt in the final corner impact, but the impact served to remind us that whatever the fuel type, automotive racing is never a foregone conclusion.
Here at Transport Evolved we think the inaugural Formula E race showed great promise and managed to serve as an excellent taster for those experiencing electric motor sport for the first time. But we also note that the high-pitched whine from the electric cars as they tore around the Beijing city circuit was much louder than we’d expected. Environmentally friendly though it might be, Formula E is anything but quiet.
But what did you think of the race? Did you watch it? And what do you think of the controversial fan boost feature that gives drivers a few seconds of extra power based on social-media voting before the race?
Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.
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